Egypt’s soccer roster based on Islamic piety

By Associated Press
January 15, 2010

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CAIRO - The coach of Egypt’s national soccer team says he wants only players who observe Islam, and the selection of his squad is based equally on religious piety and skill.

The comments by Hassan Shehata, published yesterday in Egyptian newspapers, show how sports and religion are increasingly mixing in the overwhelmingly Muslim nation of some 80 million.

The infusion of religion into sports is part of the country’s gradual movement toward religious conservatism over the past few decades, with more people praying at mosques, most women adopting the Islamic veil in public, and diminishing tolerance for secular Muslims or minority Christians. There are no Christians on the current national soccer squad.

For years, Egyptian athletes have demonstrated their religious piety in front of fans and the media - kneeling down to offer a prayer of thanks after scoring a goal or winning a game, or praying before games to implore God to come to their team’s aid.

But Shehata’s comments take religion in sports to a new level.

Shehata said pious behavior was the main category for selection.

“Without it, we will never select any player regardless of his potential,’’ Shehata said. “I always strive to make sure that those who wear the Egypt jersey are on good terms with God.’’